Chapter Three: An Era of Stagnation
It was a little more than three hundred years before Beka Valentine received Tyr's offer. Dylan Hunt and Gaheris Rhade were playing chess in the Captain's quarters. Tall and broad-shouldered with shoulder-length brown hair, Dylan had never beat Rhade. At chess, or any other game of strategy. But he meant to do it today.
Of course, their game had taken on more dimensions of late. A few months ago, Dylan realized Rhade had been cheating by hiding pieces. This would never have happened in the chess of Old Earth. The added complexity of a three-dimensional board made all the difference.
Rhade was thinner and less muscular than Dylan and never showed his true thoughts. Dylan suspected the man had done it more out of principle than actual skill. So Dylan had turned on the news today. Rhade hated the news, but he hated even more admitting weakness.
So he made his moves in a distracted fashion. Dylan was doing far better today.
"In other news, the debate for Magog citizenship is ongoing." said a reporter. "The Commonwealth has long held that no race is inherently evil. However, a vocal minority of Nietzscheans disagree. They argue that their biology makes it impossible to be a part of civilized society."
That broke Rhade. He took the remote and muted the TV. "A vocal minority indeed. Ten years ago, the Magog were ravaging entire worlds. They implanted their eggs in children. Depopulated entire cities. Now we've made peace with them."
"Rhade, we crushed them," said Dylan. "The Commonwealth only lost a few worlds, and our fleets ravaged Magog space."
"A few?" asked Rhade. "You call a hundred and thirteen a few?"
Dylan realized he'd put his foot in his mouth again. "I… Rhade, you know what I mean. Look, I don't like it any more than you. But the bottom line is that there are three galaxies we have inhabited. More worlds are colonized every day. And even though we try, sometimes worlds get destroyed."
"I wasn't attempting to argue that it was a significant number from an overall perspective," said Rhade. "It is a perfectly rational calculation. Most of the worlds that fell were Nietzschean. Nietscheans are regarded as sources of potential dissent due to our very nature.
"I would have made the same decision."
And Dylan had been taken off-guard again. "So, what's your problem?"
"The problem is that I am a Nietzschean," said Rhade. "My race believes in survival of the fittest—the triumph of the superior over the inferior. The Commonwealth has wholly rejected this ideal. We are known as noble savages at best.
"For a society which claims to champion the weak to make so calculated a decision reeks of hypocrisy."
Dylan raised an eyebrow. "And what would you do?"
"I would use the Magog as a means to justify taking additional emergency powers," said Rhade. "I would deliberately prolong the conflict and avoid a killing blow. It is useful to be loved. It is better to be feared. It is best to be necessary."
"As opposed to the Commonwealth crushing the Magog Fleets and trying to reform them." mused Dylan.
Rhade blinked. It was a major expression for a man who rarely emoted. "Reform? As we reformed Moebius?"
And the conversation turned back to Moebius. Rhade never got off that subject for long. "That was a mistake, Rhade. The mission didn't go according to plan."
"What was our mission, Dylan?" asked Rhade.
Dylan knew Rhade better than to think he'd forgotten. He wanted Dylan to state it to make a point. Whatever that point was. "Ferris was terrorizing his people. We were supposed to bring him in. He was performing all kinds of human rights violations. And he was a threat to the surrounding sector."
"Human rights?" asked Rhade. "Aren't those merely part of your ideology. Perhaps the people of Moebius believed differently. No dictator can survive unless he has the support of at least part of the population.
"One might ask what right the Vedrans have to go around kicking in the doors of developing nations. And telling the rulers the people have chosen what to do."
"Ferris was a totalitarian monster," said Dylan. "Everyone was under constant watch. People were murdered if they were even suspected of dissent. Free speech was nonexistent."
"But the people still put him in power," noted Rhade. "And then failed to mobilize and rein him in him. Had they thrown off the yolk of his tyranny themselves, it would be a proud moment in their history: something that would inspire works of art, legends, and forward progress.
"Instead, we marched into their planet and shot their leader dead. Then we put an architect in charge of the government. And a few million troops on the ground to discourage dissent. The fall of Ferris will be remembered as a humiliation. A time where the Commonwealth had to march in and fix Moebius' problems for it."
"Maybe," said Dylan. He'd be lying if he said he didn't have some regrets. "but it could have been decades before we had a functioning democracy."
"Is there a functioning democracy there now, Dylan?" asked Rhade.
Ouch. "We've had one or two problems." Dylan moved a piece to try and goad Rhade on.
"It has been four years since our successful mission, Dylan," said Rhade. "Four years since freedom was brought to Moebius at the point of a gun. In that time, not one Commonwealth Division has been withdrawn from the surface.
"Far from it, our presence has only increased. A nonstop guerilla war wages across the surface. If we were to pull out tomorrow, the planet would fall into absolute anarchy."
"Prime Minister Cameron is well-intentioned and competent," said Dylan.
"True," admitted Rhade. "For an architect, he demonstrates a moderate degree of skill. But the reality of the situation is that removing Ferris only made us the primary target. We've spent tens of billions propping up a government that would have fallen long ago without us.
"And which one of our objectives have we achieved?"
Dylan considered his answer. "There were free elections last year."
"They were rigged," said Rhade. He went on the offense.
"You don't know that," said Dylan.
"What if a candidate came to power, one who was anti commonwealth?" asked Rhade. "Would it be responsible, allowing him to spread his rhetoric and inflame the situation?"
"No," said Dylan, making a defensive move.
"Would you prefer it if the Commonwealth murdered every official who had an opinion we don't like?" asked Rhade.
"Of course not," said Dylan.
"Then that leaves only one option," said Rhade. He moved a piece. "Election fraud is clearly the lesser of two evils. The Commonwealth chose it. And they were wise to have that stance.
"Unfortunately, this only served the minority groups feel persecuted. Thus, they engender strife and dislike of the Commonwealth.
"But even if we were to establish free elections. Even if all the candidates were favorable to the Commonwealth, we would still fail. Moebius has many different races and ethnic groups, all with their own agenda. Giving everyone an equal vote only served to make the most numerous factions have all the power.
"Moebius is a planet untroubled by the inhibitions which Commonwealth citizens have. In their minds, grabbing a gun and shooting your enemy is a perfectly rational response if you can get away with it. An attitude I can respect, even if I do not find it desirable."
Dylan decided to cut to the chase as he made another move. He set a trap for Rhade and hoped he'd fall into it. "Alright, where are you going with this Rhade? You've been talking a lot about the flaws in the Commonwealth for weeks. Look, we've made a lot of mistakes, but we're still the greatest civilization in history."
"And we are decaying," said Rhade. He took the bait. "The ultimate reason our operations on Moebius were a failure is simple. There was no way we could achieve victory. Our objectives were thus: "Establish a functioning democracy in Moebius."
"Yet we had no true plan for doing so. Nor did we have fail-safes in place to deal with a less than optimal outcome. Our leader is a buffoon who disbanded the military of Moebius. He gave the dissent factions all the trained killers they'd ever need.
"Any moderately intelligent sentient could have realized it to be a bad idea. Yet our glorious government did not.
"Our response to a monstrous race ravaging our subjects is to let them off with a stern warning. What lesson has that imparted upon our future enemies? They now know they have nothing to lose by opposing us.
"And what have they to gain?
"Inferior ideologies have begun to supplant those whose worth has been proven. The endless news media runs 24/7, blaring nonsense into the ears of our overweight populace. We have done away with all the drafts. Thus only the bravest and best of our society go into war.
"The best of each generation is weeded out of the gene pool. Braindead sycophants worth less than the dirt it would take to bury lead us. Propagating irrational ideas designed to appeal to ignorant masses.
"Let me ask you something, Dylan. When did the 'greatest civilization in history' reinvent itself. From bold pioneers to a society of fat, cowardly gossipmongers. Degenerates whose greatest fear is appearing politically incorrect?
"This is not evolution. It is a regression."
Rhade had a point. Dylan didn't want to admit it, but plenty of non Nietzscheans had expressed a dislike of one or all of those things. And the Commonwealth's Media blasted them with words like racist and bigot. Because their ideology did not align with the mainstream. Dylan didn't agree with many of those people.
But he did feel that they had the right to their opinions. That was what a tolerant society was all about. It worried him sometimes that political activists forgot that.
He did agree with Rhade on one thing. The Commonwealth had gone downhill. "…I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if anything has ever changed."
"Something has changed." Rhade sat back in his chair and clasped his hands together. "Fortunately, a solution is coming."
"What do you mean?" asked Dylan. He sprung the trap. It worked perfectly.
"It is the rule of the universe Dylan," said Rhade. "Whenever a society grows too decadent, it either reforms or fails. The Commonwealth will have to reform soon. A storm is coming."
He was dead serious. Dylan eyed him. "What do you mean?"
"Haven't you noticed that we haven't been called in to mediate on any disputes lately?" asked Rhade. "The other powers have lost faith in us. We've overstayed our welcome on worlds like Moebius. Everything is in place.
"It will only take one critical action, and the dominoes will fall." He made a move. "Checkmate."
Dylan looked at the board. His own trap had worked. But Rhade had made a trap of his own, which Dylan's had played an essential part of. His laughed. "…Okay, you got me."
"Another game?" asked Rhade.
Dylan stood up. "No thanks, Rhade. I should probably check up on the bridge. You're still going to be my best man, aren't you?"
"Of course," said Rhade. "I'm looking forward to the wedding."
Dylan walked through the halls. As he did so, he wondered about bringing Rhade in on his wedding. He considered Rhade a friend; of course, they'd been through all kinds of things together. But Nietzscheans didn't think like humans or even like aliens.
He wondered if Rhade considered him a friend, sometimes. Or even if that was possible for a Nietzschean. Halting in the hall, he suddenly had the feeling something was wrong in all this. Rhade kept on bringing up the decline of the Commonwealth.
"Andromeda, give me a status report," said Dylan.
Andromeda's avatar, that of a black-haired and voluptuous Asian woman, appeared. Her expression was stoic. "All systems are go. No incoming signals just yet."
"It's been a heck of a slow week, hasn't it," said Dylan.
"I noticed that as well, Captain," said Andromeda. "There have been a great many slow weeks this year." She paused. "Captain, there is something I wanted to talk to you about."
"What is it?" asked Dylan, leaning up against the wall.
"I've been looking over a series of logs in the Commonwealth Armada," said Andromeda. "There have been a series of personnel transfers over the past few weeks. There have been far more of them than is standard."
"Doesn't sound like anything more than a spike," said Dylan.
"There is something else," said Andromeda. "They've all been Nietzscheans."
Dylan blinked. "All of them?"
"Most," said Andromeda.
Dylan paused. "Okay, put out a report to the Commonwealth Higherups about this. Tell them they might want to check it out.
"Send them a list of everyone who has transferred.
"Hey, has anyone been transferred over here?"
"No," said Andromeda. "The transmission has been sent." Then she paused. "Captain, we are receiving a distress signal from the Hephaistos system. They say they've been having trouble with pirates."
Dylan smiled. "Well, we've got some excitement at last. Tell the bridge to standby and get Rhade to drill the gunners. We've got some pirates to hunt."
"Affirmative," said Andromeda.
The era of dull moments was over at last.
Here we have chapter three.
I'm uncomfortable with how this entire chapter was an elaborate debate between Rhade and Dylan. But I felt establishing their relationship was important. And at the same time, I could establish the nature of the Commonwealth at the time of the fall.
I think the real reason I fell out with Dylan's character is that his personality became inconsistent. He worked best when he was a highly competent but somewhat naive individual trying to do the right thing. It made him a foil to all the other characters and let him stand out. In later seasons though, he is portrayed as this all-knowing action hero who sleeps with a new supermodel every week and is, frankly, kind of a jerk.